By KELIN DILLON
On Monday, Jan. 2, Mexico’s Supreme Court Justice of the Nation (SCJN) elected Norma Lucía Piña Hernández as its new presiding magistrate for 2023 to 2026, making Piña the very first woman to hold the position of SCJN president in Mexican history.
“I recognize the very important determination of this plenary to break what seemed like an inaccessible glass ceiling,” said Piña after her election. “I feel very strong, because I feel that all women are represented. We placed ourselves for the first time in the center of the horseshoe of this plenary, demonstrating to others and demonstrating to ourselves that, yes, we can.”
Monday’s election required three voting rounds before Piña earned the six out of eleven votes she needed to take the SCJN presidency, the third time in 24 years the court has required more than one round of voting to reach its presidential decision.
Candidates who campaigned for but lost out on the role include Piña’s fellow ministers Javier Laynez, Alberto Pérez Dayán, Alfredo Gutiérrez Ortiz Mena and former favorite Yasmín Esquivel, the latter of whose aspirations to reach the top of the SCJN were hampered by a plagiarism scandal allegedly conducted while she was an undergraduate student at the National Autonomous University of Mexico (UNAM) in 1986 – though she was purportedly cleared of wrongdoing by the Mexico City Attorney General’s Office (FGJ) and also given a chance to speak on the incident at the voting session itself.
Aside from breaking barriers as the court’s first female president, Piña’s election notably returns the reins of the SCJN into the hands of a career judge: Piña’s predecessor Arturo Fernando Zaldívar Lelo de Larrea, who himself required 32 rounds of votes to ultimately win the SCJN presidency in 2019, a career lawyer and the first non-career judge to lead the SCJN. Piña first began her judicial career in 1989 when she became a judicial specialist at the SCJN’s Institute of Judicial Specialization, and now has more than 33 years of judicial experience.
In fact, Piña is the last career judge appointed to the SCJN in general, done so by former Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto in 2015 before current President Andrés Manuel López Obrador (AMLO) assumed office in 2018 and proceeded to appoint four career lawyers, rather than judges, to the court.
As the last electee of Peña Nieto, Piña has been consistently critical of policies enacted by the López Obrador administration; now, as the president of the SCJN, Piña will be in control of which of AMLO’s reforms and policies will be reviewed for constitutionality by the SCJN throughout the executive’s remaining 21 months in office.
Piña officially assumed her role as the presiding magistrate of the SCJN from Zaldívar immediately after Monday’s election, affirming that her time in the position would be spent “following the path of the Mexican Constitution.”